It’s often claimed that if you put a frog in a pan of water, then slowly heat it up, the frog won’t notice the rising temperature and will stay in there until it’s boiled alive. I’ve always had my doubts about this – surely it stays in there because you put the lid on the pan? – but I’ve never tried it, because I’m not the sort of person who boils frogs. If you’re looking for that kind of witless sadist I’d suggest you track down a Labour or Lib Dem MEP.
Whether or not it works with frogs, however, the British government seems to be hoping the same principle works on vapers. The abominable Tobacco Products Directive goes into effect on the 20th of May, and as anyone who’s been following it will know, the effects are horrific. Every single atomiser I own will be banned; so will all the liquids I use on a daily basis. The only liquid I ever buy that’s compliant will probably disappear anyway, because its maker will be driven off the market by the cost and hassle of the notification regime. Once the law is fully in effect you can forget about getting your hands on the latest hardware; for no very apparent reason except sheer spite, the TPD builds in a six-month delay that will ensure products are obsolete before they even go on sale.
It has to be said that the British government isn’t too enthusiastic about the TPD. They’ve tried to interpret the EU directive as liberally as possible, to minimise the impact it’s going to have on vapers. In fact it looks like they may even have gone beyond what’s allowed. The EU built in a twelve-month transition period to allow vendors to sell off old stock, but the UK has ruled that non-compliant products can even be imported and produced until the 20th of November, and won’t have to come off the market until May 2017.
At first glance that looks like good news for vapers, but I’m not so sure that it is. The aim seems to be to make the TPD’s introduction as painless as possible, so painless that nobody except vendors – who’ll immediately start being hammered with fees and pointless paperwork – will even notice. If vapers don’t notice any change then they won’t be absolutely furious when the referendum on EU membership comes around, most likely in November. Of course behind the scenes the water in that pan will be slowly heating up, but it won’t come to the boil until next May – with the referendum safely in the past and unlikely ever to be repeated.
When David Cameron decided to hold the referendum he probably thought an “In” vote was already as good as in the bag. Consistent majorities have supported staying in for decades, after all. But since he started his negotiation process the EU has tripped on its dong time after time – accidentally provoking war in the Ukraine, trashing what remained of the Greek economy and bungling the migration crisis so badly it’s hard to believe they aren’t screwing up on purpose. Public opinion has shifted dramatically, with most polls showing the two sides neck and neck and a few even putting “Out” in the lead.
This is a problem for the government, because Cameron and the leaders of the other main parties all want to stay in; after all, the EU is a proven way for people who failed at national politics to keep their snouts in the tax trough for a while longer. If the TPD hit with its full force in May, it’s safe to bet that three million or so angry vapers would be making their feelings known at the ballot box – and with the polls the way they are right now, that would deliver a crushing victory for the “Out” side.
It’s possible that the government actually is trying to protect e-cigarette users as much as possible, but the cynic in me says that they really, really don’t want all those vapers to notice the rising temperature and hop out of the pan. So they’re trying to turn up the heat as gently as they can in the hope we won’t realise we’re cooked until the first bubbles appear.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t know if frogs can be fooled so easily. I do know something else, though. Vapers are smarter than frogs, and if we get fooled we have nobody but ourselves to blame. So don’t lose sight of how appallingly bad the TPD really is. Don’t listen to the divisive voices that say it won’t make much difference. Write to your MP to let them know that if Article 20 hasn’t been flushed down the toilet of history by the day of the referendum you’ll be voting to leave the EU. If they get enough letters saying that, the political will to do something might magically appear. And if it doesn’t, then vote “Out”. It’s not like it’s a bad idea anyway.